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Re: “The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Dear Steve, I was sorry about my comment, with all of its shortcomings, and came online to remove it, when I read your recent installment. Now I'm glad I shot my arrow (“hiding behind gnothi_sauton”) because your answer richly complements the original review, and gives you a broader platform (1400 words total!) to discuss the book and its author, whose work you obviously know quite well. You are quite right, the role of the 600-word book reviewer cannot be a synopsis – but rather a platform to evoke interest in the book, to briefly judge its merits, and situate it within the author’s corpus. Which you did. So, I was wrong on that count. I was also wrong to imply the review was negative. It was not. But more on that below. I’m sorry this ends up being a two-for-one deal for you (two reviews for the pay of one), but such is the magic of dialogue that by responding to my specifics you’ve given a much better portrait of the book, its spirit and intent. Which will now be helpful to any enquirer who happens upon the page (even until now only you and I have been here.) I also think your discussion of equivocation and criticism, and its place in Iyer’s voice, is excellent – and very important beyond this book, in the context of globalism and the excesses of fundamentalism. I concur that Iyer’s dialectical way of interpretation without rigidity “is a mature, sensible view of the world as it is today” – and models practical thinking skills for any who wishes to move in that direction. It was not as an idolater or true believer that I responded (reacted?) to your review. I do think the last paragraph of the original is in poor taste for this reason. It appears that you are quoting hearsay in order to suggest personal hypocrisy in the author. That does not belong in a book review like this, and wastes valuable space that could have been better used. If that isn’t what you meant to communicate, I advise you read it over again. You claim the putative comment is “a telling remark” – but it is not at all clear to the reader what it tells. You seem to imply Iyer should be more careful in making light of Hinduism (“one’s own tradition”). Or perhaps you seem to be questioning the genuineness of Iyer’s public persona as skeptic, when (supposedly) he has addressed an audience on esoteric matters (whatever those are.) These are the vaguely “telling” implications the reader can only guess at. Thus, I believe the paragraph is a distraction to the review, and leaves an uneasy last impression. Which, I confess, got the better of me, leaving me to deal unfairly with the foregoing. Yours sincerely, GS (still hiding)

Posted by gnothi_sauton on 06/28/2008 at 6:24 PM

Re: “The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

I hope potential readers of Pico Iyer’s “Open Road” will not be put off by this review. I am finding the book a real labor of love (Iyer has said in interviews that he spent 5 years on the book – far longer than any other book of his) and a jewel with many facets. The book is as multidimensional as its subject matter, H.H. Dalai Lama. There are wonderfully clear and sympathetic explanations of Buddhism – with emphasis on its practical, existential value. Streufert’s characterizations of Iyer’s skepticism, convolution and equivocation are very misleading, to this reader’s mind, and are perhaps better applied (as is often the case with critics) to the review, and not the reviewed. The perspective of the review seems strangely from the outside, as if the book hasn’t really been read at all, a kind of speculation: “What if the author of the head-spinning ‘Falling off the Map’or ‘The Global Soul’ were to write on the Dalai Lama?” Streufert fails to note the most compelling reason why the “Tibet-in-exile is an enigma perfectly suited for author Pico Iyer's talents of equivocal observation and outside-the-box analysis.” It has nothing to do with Iyer’s writing voice or past projects. It is a unique personal history of 33 years of meetings with H.H., a personal acquaintance inherited from Iyer’s father. Streufert fails to mention the book’s wealth of unique personal anecdotes, the striking imagery of modern Dharamsala, and the often simple diction and sustained inquiry (mirroring a Buddhist-like eye for essentials) that contrasts Iyer’s voice here with previous work. Add to that, the Time Magazine journalist’s extensive research, and his ability to frame the modern moment in a vast and complex history – and you have very rich and unusual book indeed. Iyer’s book is important, too, in exploring how the popularity of the Dalai Lama creates a kind of screen that hides his true power, intelligence, and attainments. The worship of celebrity, Iyer stresses, is ultimately a poor compensation for taking the human reality of the man to heart (where alone it can effect lasting change.) Streufert’s last paragraph, a sort of weird confusion of personal anecdote, is perhaps intended to claim from the reader an authority argumentum ad hominem that his foregoing review lacks. But for the reviewer to spend one-forth of his article in a logical fallacy – especially when careful reasoning (the Geluk tradition of Tibetan Buddhism) is the major thread of Iyer’s book – is irony itself.

Posted by gnothi_sauton on 06/06/2008 at 12:53 PM

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